Chief Rabbi opens Brighton's new 'Champions League' community centre

The new centre was backed by Brighton and Hove Albion boss Tony Bloom


Officially opening Brighton’s ground-breaking BNJC campus last Friday, Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis told the 200 guests: “I’ll be your ultimate champion.”

Rabbi Mirvis said “the incredible facility”— incorporating a shul, housing, restaurant and deli, gym and work spaces — was pioneering a new community model.

There had previously been three modes — managing success, managing decline and managing the status quo. “From today onwards, we have a fourth model... reversing decline. Because that’s the story of BNJC.”

He hoped the entire local Jewish population would use the facilities, declaring: “It has the potential to become one of the great Jewish centres.”

Rabbi Mirvis lavished praise on Brighton and Hove Albion football club chair Tony Bloom, whose Bloom Foundation has supported the project from inception.

“There are many people who have dreams, intentions, ideas [and] make resolutions. But very few transform their dreams into reality in a spectacular way.”

He had heard Bloom talking about the football club’s ascent to the Premier League after years “in which there had been a sense of decline, drifting aimlessly.

“You had a dream for your team. You invested in it. And you wanted to see the same thing happening for the Jewish community of Brighton. Well, I want you to know that you’ve done better with the shul than with Brighton and Hove Albion!”

While the team had enjoyed its best-ever season — finishing sixth in the top flight and qualifying for the Europa League — “with this centre, the Jewish community is now in the Champions League”.

Rabbi Mirvis addressed the launch meeting for BNJC in 2017. But the plan to revitalise Brighton Jewry had its origins a further two years back, Bloom told the JC.

It was in 2015, he said, that lifelong friend and BNJC CEO Marc Sugarman discovered that the Hove site — then solely the home of Brighton and Hove Hebrew Congregation —- might be sold to developers.

“It was very difficult financially to keep the site going. It was losing money.

“The developers would have built a much smaller synagogue and maybe a small hall to go with it. If that had happened, it was going to continue the decline.

“So we all put our heads together and thought: ‘Rather than a developer making money out of it, can we develop it and keep the money in the community?’ And that’s what we’ve done.”

Many obstacles had to be overcome.  “Most building projects have bumps along the way and we had more than our fair share with Covid, Brexit, inflation, difficulty of supplies, and other building issues. But we stuck together. We worked as a team of builders, architects, BHHC, BNJC, the Bloom Foundation and we worked through things. We’re absolutely delighted to be here on this fabulous weekend to formally open the centre.

“We’ve got so much going for us here,” he added. “A beautiful synagogue and a mikveh, a kosher restaurant and a deli — the first kosher restaurant for a very long time in Brighton.

“There’s co-working space, a gym and a rich programme of educational and cultural content. There’s always going to be activities here.”

Seeing the project come to fruition “means a huge amount to me. I was brought up here in a Jewish home. I was involved in the community. I had my bar mitzvah in Brighton. We had events, BBYO, JLGB. There was quite a thriving community although small compared to London.

“Over the years, there has been a decline, a lot of young people moving to London, myself included. A lot of the older community stayed. This was an opportunity to revive the community.

“As the Chief Rabbi says, reverse the decline and you will see a thriving Brighton and Hove Jewish community in the future.”

Bloom added that the weekend in early March when the shul held its first Shabbat services in its new premises had been equally emotional.

“We’d all been working for this for years. To be able to sit there for the first service led by Rabbi [Hershel] Rader was special. It’s absolutely huge for my parents. They gave me the inspiration growing up.”

Bloom and Sugarman also addressed the opening, along with Rabbi Rader and trustee Natasha Isaac. Sugarman stressed that the project was not just about reviving Brighton Jewry but providing an asset for the city.

The Chief Rabbi stayed over Shabbat in one of the BNJC apartments, for which Sugarman has reported significant demand. And although teething issues have prevented the full operation of the restaurant, it is attracting 100 covers for breakfast.

Interest in the BNJC model has been expressed by other communities and Bloom said he would welcome representatives wishing to see it for themselves.

And asked whether the opening of BNJC meant more to him than his football team’s recent achievements, Bloom suggested it was a score draw.

“I’m so fortunate. Lots of good things have happened. I have great support from my family. The success of Brighton and Hove FC is very special to me, as is the revitalisation of the Brighton and Hove Jewish community.”

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